Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Longing for more

I recently read Ruth Barton's Longing for More. I didn't like it. It seemed emotionally driven rather than Biblically engaged, and woman-centred rather than God-centred. In an irony only driven by laziness, I also am going to 'review' this lightly, emotionally and not engage with the Biblical texts. Barton used the word self-esteem so often as the driving force that I almost gave up reading it altogether: she seemed quite emotionally sure that our main problem as Christian women is low self-esteem, because the Church has failed us. There was no reckoning of 'the Church is us and we fail each other' but only the male Church has failed us. I had hoped that from someone who wished to minister to others and was gifted in a speaking role, Barton would wrestle with some of the key texts and help us to see God's beautiful plan for his people, reflecting his Trinity, in which we're called to minister to each other in a glorious variety of ways within the Body with the Christ-like, self-sacrificing headship authority of some godly men. But no. We had an emotional appeal which started with 'I feel low self-esteem unless I'm in a leadership role', passed through 'Church quashes that role' and 'God must want us to have high self-esteem', and ended up with 'therefore you go girl: don't let yourself be restricted'. We had a short appendix in which she considered 1 Tim 2, or rather, took vv.11-12 out of context, reconstructed a context for the whole letter, and ignored the rest of the chapter including vv.13-15. All-in-all, extremely disappointing.

We may long for more, and we do fail each other in the Church (and it did seem Barton knew only a very traditional set-up, rather than actively complementarian), but the answer is not that we need our self-esteem built up, but that we need to see God and love each other in response (Mo wrote stirringly on this today). A woman who is gifted to speak God's word does not need to emotionally react to traditionalist structures by rejecting any role distinction or structure, driven by self-esteem issues; she may examine the Scriptures to see the glorious plan for the family of God, and seek to use her gifts to build up the Church accordingly. That may well, admittedly, require some facilitation on the part of others in more traditionalist structures, but this is not the book which will help those ladies seeking to use their gifts nor those seeking to encourage them. When I was younger I learnt much from Sharon James on this, and although I can't remember precisely what's in her book and what I learn from her life & teaching in person, I'm sure God's Design for Women is more helpful than Longing for More, which left me longing for... God's design.


Paul said...

My wife did the course of God's Design for Women with some others at church. She thought it was brilliant. What's more, I always looked forward to Wednesday evenings because she'd always come back and be extra nice to me. Go Sharon James!

étrangère said...

Ye....s, that wasn't just what I was thinking, but ok! Have you also read Sharon's book? Worthwhile: it'd be great if men could encourage the women they know, in living out God's design :)

Paul said...

Quite... there's obviously a lot more to it than that.

I haven't read it or watched it myself but Adele took notes and we talked through everything in each of the sessions. A lot of it (God's design for men and women) is really quite counter-cultural and it's tricky unweaving the Biblical teaching from our own prejudices and the spirit of our age.